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Amazon Product Liability Lawsuits Can Change How E-Businesses Operate


Amazon was hit with two product liability lawsuits recently. One involved an exploding hoverboard and the other involved a dog leash that snapped back and blinded its owner. Amazon has long enjoyed a liability black hole as the distributor of products and an agent for companies seeking to sell them. However, these two lawsuits could change all that.

The Exploding Hoverboard Lawsuit

If a company like Walmart distributes a product, they are not typically liable if an individual is injured by that product. In a product liability lawsuit, a plaintiff does not have to prove negligence. All they need to show is that they used the product in a way that could have reasonably been anticipated by the manufacturer and in so doing were injured.

However, the same cannot be said for the distributor of a product. If the plaintiff wants to sue a distributor, they need to prove negligence. Negligence is typically proven when a plaintiff can show that the distributor either knew the product was dangerous or should have known that the product was dangerous.

In the case of the hoverboard, a plaintiff successfully argued that due to numerous complaints on Amazon’s webpage and the fact that the manufacturer of the hoverboard themselves ceased production of the product, that Amazon was culpable for negligence. While no verdict has been returned, the dismissal in the original lawsuit was overturned on appeal and Amazon will have to face the suit.

The plaintiffs say that the hoverboard caught fire and destroyed their home costing them millions of dollars and emotional distress.

The Dog Leash Lawsuit

In Pennsylvania, a dog leash malfunctioned causing the product to snap back and blind the woman who purchased the leash. A lower court tossed the lawsuit against Amazon saying that the company did not fit the strict definition of a “seller”. However, the plaintiffs, on appeal, successfully argued that because Amazon restricts communication between the manufacturer of a product and the end customer, that Amazon could be considered a seller under the definition of the term.

What This Means for Amazon

Whereas once Amazon enjoyed a liability black hole as a third-party vendor, that situation was likely not to hold up. Logistically, Amazon should be held to the same standard as retail vendors like Walmart, Target, and others. If Amazon made defective hoverboards available to the public through its website, then they are partly liable for the destruction it caused, the same as Walmart would be.

The trickier case involves the dog leash since Amazon had no foreknowledge that the leash was dangerous. It is also potentially the more concerning of the two. If Amazon is held liable in this case, it’s sure to inspire a change in policy. Customers are more likely to have more freedom to communicate with manufacturers directly.

Talk to a Vero Beach Personal Injury Attorney

If you’ve been injured by a dangerous or defective product, talk to the Vero Beach defective product attorneys at Vocelle & Berg, LLP and schedule a free consultation.